Niseko is an easy sell for skiers and snow boarders. Located on the northern island of Hokkaido in Japan, Niseko prides itself for being the snowiest resort in the world.
While the area’s powder snow is famous the world over, what many people don’t realise is that Niseko also has a thriving restaurant scene and makes for a great foodie destination as well. In fact, Niseko’s restaurants have grown so popular that booking a table has become practically mandatory.
Perfectionism runs deep in Japanese culture and is a key component of the country’s superlative culinary offerings. Some even claim that the French pastries you get in Japan are better than the ones you’d pick up in Paris. As a testament to just how seriously Japanese take their food, Japan has the highest number of three-star Michelin restaurants of any country in the world.
Even northern Niseko is enjoying a bit of the country’s Michelin glory. The highly-acclaimed French restaurant Kamimura is Niseko’s pride and joy. This stylish one Michelin star restaurant serves elaborate set menus which combine French cuisine with local Hokkaido produce, seafood and meat as curate by Chef Kamimura. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner during the summer season and for dinner only during winter.
Restaurant Asperges Hanazono offers another close encounter with Michelin glory in the heart of Niseko. Head chef Hiroshi Nakamichi’s signature restaurant Moliere in Sapporo is a three-star Michelin restaurant, while his other venue Asperges in Biei was awarded one Michelin star in 2012. Trained in France, Chef Nakamichi specialises in French cuisine with a distinct Hokkaido twist. Asperges Hanazono is only open during the winter season and offers a complimentary shuttle service within the Hirafu and Niseko Village area.
Though seafood might not be your first preference given the frosty climate in Niseko, forgoing the local specialities would be a crying shame. Ezo Seafoods has been around since 2009 and serves what is arguably the freshest and most sought-after seafood in Niseko and booking a table months in advance is not unheard of – on the contrary, it’s basically a necessity. Ezo Seafoods’ host and self-proclaimed “seafood captain” James Gallagher continues to visit local markets daily to procure the freshest fish, oysters, scallops and more.
When it comes to watering holes, Japan is first and foremost known for sake, but beer drinkers will be delighted to learn that Niseko also has its own microbrewery. Niseko Beer has been around since 2014 and you can sample the brand’s pale ales and pilsners at their own restaurant, Niseko Tap House. Next to sake and beer, fine-dining restaurants like Kamimura offer excellent wine pairings curated by the in-house sommelier, so wine lovers can live it up in Niseko as well.
Though Niseko offers a superb selection of fine dining outlets, the ski resort also offers plenty of casual restaurants. One of the best ways to spend an evening in Niseko is to do a classic Izakaya crawl. Izakayas are the Japanese equivalent of a gastro pub and visiting one is just what the doctor ordered after a day of hitting the slopes.
One of the area’s all time classics is Bang Bang which is so popular that they have opened a second outlet, Bang Bang 2, right next door. If you’re after some authentic sushi in a low-key setting, Sushi Hanayosh is one of Niseko’s finest.
If seafood seems like an odd fit for a winter destination, the same goes double for ice cream and yet, Niseko excels in ice cream making, too. Milk Kobo produces ice cream from milk retrieved from the farm right next door, while Niseko Gelato offers authentic Italian style gelato made from 100% Hokkaido dairy.
Though it might seem like an odd paring to begin with, Niseko’s ice cream parlours are a great example of the secret sauce behind Niseko’s thriving food scene: international level cuisine produced from high quality local ingredients, finished off with a unique Hokkaido twist.